Manchester City’s title challenge got off to an excellent start with a 2-0 win away at Newcastle on the opening weekend of the season.
Although City’s play was at times somewhat stifled by a rustiness and incoherence brought on by a pre-season disrupted by the World Cup, they were rarely under any pressure defensively and scored two excellent goals through David Silva and Sergio Aguero.
City’s starting XI was bereft of a host of stars still recovering from their World Cup exploits. There was no Fernandinho, Pablo Zabaleta or Aguero in the starting line-up, and Bacary Sagna and Eliaquim Mangala were deemed not fit enough for the bench.
However, one name was conspicuous by its absence. Matija Nastasic, a player who has enjoyed a full pre-season, wasn’t even among the substitutes, with Dedryck Boyata named ahead of him.
It was a confusing selection from Manuel Pellegrini and one that added fuel to recent speculation the player may be on his way.
Indeed, Pellegrini confirmed after the match that Nastasic is surplus to requirements, with the Chilean suggesting the club are open to offers for the Serbian, as well as Micah Richards and Scott Sinclair.
Richards and Sinclair’s positions, for different reasons, are understandably under threat, but the decision to make Nastasic available for transfer is baffling to some.
Pellegrini also says Nastasic, Richards, Sinclair and Guidetti are surplus to requirements.— Stuart Brennan (@StuBrennanMEN) August 17, 2014
Nastasic arrived at City in the summer of 2012 with the club basking in the glory of their first league title win in 44 years.
Optimism was high, but a difficult summer in which Brian Marwood and Roberto Mancini struggled to land their primary targets saw City regress. Nastasic was the only successful addition that summer, and City failed to defend their title, finishing a massive 11 points behind rivals Manchester United.
City’s new teenage defender had been one of the few real positives that season. He made his debut in the Bernabeu for a Champions League tie with Real Madrid and breezed effortlessly through the 90 minutes. It was a dazzling display from one so young—a precursor to his form for the remainder of the season.
He ousted Joleon Lescott, a player central to City’s league title win, from the starting XI and established himself as a firm favourite among the fans. By the end of the season, he was considered one of the finest young defenders in Europe. For £12 million (plus Stefan Savic), City had themselves a steal.
However, under Pellegrini last season, injury struck and Nastasic’s form suffered badly.
His assured performances were replaced by a lack of decisiveness and suddenly he looked vulnerable. Pellegrini was unimpressed, and new signing Martin Demichelis became first-choice partner for Vincent Kompany.
A mysterious knee injury kept him on the sidelines of the majority of the second-half of the season, yet a feeling remained that Nastasic had shown enough quality in his debut season to still be considered a great prospect for City.
It seems, though, that Pellegrini wants to cash in on the 21-year-old, despite him being bracketed as an under-21 player by Premier League rules, meaning he is exempt from the homegrown quota rules for one more season.
And that’s why, for many, it’s a move that makes little sense. He needs an opportunity to prove himself, and with a season where he falls outside of quota rules, it seems sensible to give it to him.
It’s a deal which, in years to come, City may regret. Nastasic, despite his recent dip in form, is clearly a very talented player.
His performances during his debut season belied his years, with his reading of the game remarkably mature and the timing of his challenges wonderful to watch. City’s loss could very well be somebody else’s gain.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard.